Archive for August, 2008

Sydney…greatest city in the world!

August 30, 2008

Sydney…greatest city in the world!
 
Anyone who knows me will tell you I am not the greatest lover of cities as travel destinations. Sure I don’t mind doing the occasional city break but generally for me a city is something you fly into and pass through as quickly as possible on your way to a more desirable relaxed part of the country in question. Preferably, a part of the country with beaches, wide open spaces, cheap food and drink and happy people – none of which I usually find myself stumbling over when I spend anytime in a city.
 
That was carved in stone for me, immutable, a constant, irrefutable…until I visited Sydney.
 
So the deal was this. I live in Western Europe. We were heading down south to explore New Zealand. A place abundant in all my must haves listed above with the idea of possibly emigrating. However, the wife says to me “it’s a long way to go and not to visit Australia”.  Now at this point I should mention I have never wanted to visit Australia in my life. Friends who had circumnavigated the country on 12 month round the world trips advised me to skip it in favour of the delights of Asia. It’s not often my friends give me bad advice. That said, I should also mention my wife normally gets her own way and before I knew it we had a Sydney stopover added to our itinerary. I have friends in Brisbane and so our itinerary soon read  Scotland, Brittany, Thailand, arrive Sydney/ Depart Brisbane/ arrive Auckland. 

Thailand was OK, going downhill in my opinion, not what it was and next time i’ll probably do Laos instead.

Upon leaving Thailand I was looking forward to crossing into the Southern Hemisphere for the first time and mentally already preparing for getting in and out of Australia before hitting the main event of NZ.

So we’re coming in to land at Sydney and the first thing you see from the air is the Sydney Tower (or the Space needle as it’s also known) and then you can see the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. So i’m sitting there as we’re descending thinking  “hhhmmm Sky Tower is there…Harbour is there…Opera House is there”, and before I knew it I had found my bearings even before we landed. Furthermore, and I don’t know whether it was just the thrill of seeing these landmarks like that laid out below me from the air…but I fell in Love with Sydney before we even touched down. 

Now Australian immigration is probably one of the most meticulous in the world and we were prepared for the inevitable lengthy rigmarole with some miserable faced Ozzie, but instead we are greeted by a smiling immigration guy who clocks my football shirt and exclaims “oh Arsenal my favourite team” . Exiting immigration and the airport we decide to take the cheap minibus option into town, so we get a ticket and approach the first one in the rank only for the guy to greet us with “oh Arsenal, my favourite team”, so i’m not out of the airport and the people have already won me over.

We had decided to stay in the Woolloomooloo part of town as we had heard it was cheap and within walking distance of everywhere and we were dropped on Victoria Street with hostels in abundance about 6.00am.

By 10am we had found a decent enough place, caught a couple of hours sleep and were then out and off to explore the city.  Consulting our map we see Liverpool St, Victoria St, Kings Cross, Bayswater Road and Oxford St – it’s hard for an amateur Londoner not to feel at home in Sydney.

Victoria Street, it turns out is really the southern boundary of Kings Cross and the Northern boundary of Woolloomooloo but it’s still just a short walk into the CBD and the main tourist areas. 

Rather than bore you with a step by step reenactment of our trawl around this city I will instead give you some of my reccomendations.

It’s a top top ten, but as always not in any particular order, do with them what you will:

The Sydney Harbour Bridge

Or “The Coathanger” as the locals refer to it.  It is the world’s widest long-span bridge and its tallest steel arch bridge, measuring 134 metres (429.6 ft) from top to water level. Do what you will! Sketch it, photograph it, paint it. The more adventurous of you will climb it for a fee, but you can just walk across it for nothing, take a cab, take a train…but you can’t say you have been to Sydney until you have crossed The Sydney Harbour Bridge. It’s an icon.

The Manly Ferry

Not to be confused with a testosterone fuelled shipping service but the Manly Ferry is a commuter service which runs from Circular Quay to the Sydney suburb of Manly.

The journey is far cheaper than taking any of the harbour tours and you get a good view of the Bridge and an excellent view of the Opera House.  Manly itself is a delight, try the ice cream parlour just on the right on the main drag from the harbour to the beach.

The Sydney Opera House

Catch a performance, do the tour or just have your photo taken outside arms aloft pretending to sing. It was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site on June 28, 2007.  Based on the competition winning entry by Danish architect Jørn Utzon, the Sydney Opera House is one of the world’s most distinctive 20th century buildings, and one of the most famous performing arts venues in the world.

The Sydney Tower

Right in the heart of the Sydney central business district (CBD) rises the 305-metre Sydney Tower, a distinctive, highly visible Sydney landmark and the city’s tallest structure, more than two and a quarter times the height of the Sydney Harbour Bridge at its highest point.

On a clear day, you can see as far as the Central Coast in the north, the Blue Mountains in the west and Wollongong and the Illawarra Coast in the south.

But Sydney Tower is not just a landmark, an observation deck, and a point of reference for those who lose their way in the city it is also an excellent dining venue with a revolving restaurant, a source of dynamic audiovisual Australian information with its OzTrek attraction, and beneath it a constellation of shops in the Westfield Centrepoint shopping centre.

Sydney Aquarium

Now an aquarium wouldn’t really be my cup of tea, yet Sydney’s No. 1 tourist attraction is truly excellent – and let’s face it it’s the safest way to view Sydney’s aquatic waterlife what with the number of man eating beasties that reside in this part of the world’s waters. Currently celebrating it’s 20th birthday, opened in 1988, the Sydney Aquarium is one of the largest Aquariums in the world and ranks with other leading aquariums such as those in Monterey in the USA and Osaka in Japan. It is Sydney’s premier tourist attraction with over 55-60% of its visitors each year coming from overseas.

Designed by Australian architects and taking nearly two years to build, the Aquarium is in the shape of a large wave, thereby complementing the underwater theme of the Aquarium itself and also the maritime theme of Darling Harbour. The Great Barrier Reef complex which opened in October 1998 continues this same theme.

Harry’s Cafe De Wheels

HCDW is a Sydney institution, which has been present since the 1930’s – primarily famous for their pies, it’s actually two other words which get Harry’s onto my must do list.  Those two words are “Chilli Dog”.

My advice is get to the Woolloomooloo site in time for opening, 08.30 Monday through Friday, 09.00 Saturday and Sunday and have one for breakfast to set you up for the day prior to exploring the city.

Harry’s is decorated with pictures of some of the celebrities who have graced it, and take my word for it the list is endless.

The phrase ‘Café de Wheels’ came about as the city council of the day insisted that mobile food caravans move a minimum of 12 inches a day. Harry dutifully obeyed and thus the name was expanded to Harry’s Café de Wheels. Before the councils ruling, the caravan was known simply as ‘Harry’s.’ When its wheels went missing one night, local wags coined the nickname ‘Café de Axle.’

Yum Cha in Chinatown

Eating out is one of the delights of Sydney and another food reccomendation is next on my list. This time it’s lunch which is on the menu, and i’m suggesting you get yourselves down to Sydney’s Haymarket district and it’s fabulous  Chinatown and look for Yum Cha (or Dim Sum), yum cha  literally means “drinking tea” and dim sum “to touch the heart.”

After you are shown to a table you don’t actually order in the ordinary sense of the word. A trolley of goodies passes by and you point to whatever takes your fancy. There is no sin in asking what particular items are. And you point and nod for whatever you want.

The usual accompaniment for yum cha is Chinese green tea and this is served in teapots that can be replenished with hot water as needed. 

There will be chopsticks at your table. If you are uncomfortable with chopsticks, you can ask for forks, or spoons and forks. Fingers are allowed.

There will be a large assortment of dishes to choose from, some of the more popular ones being har gau (shrimp dumplings), cha siu bau (barbecued-pork buns) and tsun guen (spring rolls) and there are many variations of these as well.

There will also be desert items, such as egg tart, lychees and sweet sticky rice, for afters. 

Usually the size and type of container dictates the cost. As you order your food from the trolleys, these items are stamped in clearly marked price columns on an order sheet for each table. They are then totalled when you ask for your bill. 

Beware Yum Cha is highly addictive.

Blue Mountains

Less than two hours west of Sydney by road or train, which is the Australian equivalent of a walk to the bottom of your street – definately close enough enough to be included in my Sydney Top 10 is the Blue Mountains.

The Blue Mountains are one of the most popular daytrip destinations out of Sydney, particularly in the hot, sweltering summer.

In winter, this is, of course, the place to go for the Yulefest festival which runs from June to August.

The Blue Mountains — with their spectacular rock formations, cliffs and ravines, and a wilderness you can get hopelessly lost in.

From the Sydney central business district, provided you can get to the M4 freeway right away, you could be in the Blue Mountains foothills, just after Penrith, in less than an hour. 

And if you’re right at the western edge of sprawling Sydney, you could be an hour to most tourists’ favorite Blue Mountains destination — Katoomba.

Outside this frame, you could take as many hours in a day getting up to, and coming down from, the high blue yonder.

Not that it matters really, especially if you’re mainly after a cool and relaxing day. See over 2000 different types of Australian animals, waterfalls, bush walks, The Three Sisters, Sydney 2000 Olympic site and the heritage-listed Blue Mountains national park.

Botanical gardens and the Domain

Australia’s oldest scientific institution, the gorgeous Botanic Gardens was established in 1816 by Governor Macquarie. Its idyllic setting on Farm Cove overlooking the harbour makes it an oasis in the heart of Sydney. In 1788, Governor Phillip established Sydney’s first farm on these slopes and used the grassy Domain as his private garden. The historically rich grounds were the city’s first park, now home to Government House, artistic institutions, and, of course, extensive flora and fauna. Watch out for the bats!

Please note cameras are obligatory at Mrs Macquarie’s Chair

Sports Bar, Darlinghurst Road, Kings Cross

When the surrounding competition goes by the names of “Moulin Rouge Downunder”, “Playbirds International” and  “Porky’s Nite” you kind of get a feel for the tone of the area. Kings Cross Sydney is as classy as Kings Cross London.

But nestled amongst the soft porn of Kings Cross is a sporting man’s dream – pitchers of crisp cold frothy lager, sufficient television screens to watch the Spanish, English, Italian, French, German  and Australian football. Two types of peanuts and comfy chairs, what more could a man want.

To be honest the Sports bar isn’t all that great but it does open to allow European football fans to watch live games, but then again so do loads of places in Sydney. I only reccomend it for personal reasons (49th game unbeaten in the Invincibles run). So if you are in town, ignore my last reccomendation and instead strike out into the wild blue yonder and find your own sporting heaven…it might even have “pokies”!

Advertisements